Trash Talk: A Tale of Two Cities 

Boise has a plan for plastic recyclables; Meridian not so much

Boise is telling its residents that they'll soon be able to recycle more plastic than before, while Meridian is telling its residents that their plastic will probably end up in the landfill.

George Prentice

Boise is telling its residents that they'll soon be able to recycle more plastic than before, while Meridian is telling its residents that their plastic will probably end up in the landfill.

While the City of Boise plans to roll out a new plastic recycling program in the near future, officials in the rest of Ada County are dealing with a growing number of questions and concerns about why their cities have yet to find a solution after the People's Republic of China decided to reduce industrial pollution within its borders by halting the import of recyclables—particularly plastics—from the United States.

In Meridian, officials have scheduled a town hall meeting for Wednesday, Jan. 24, to make sure citizens understand there are few alternatives when it comes to their plastic trash.

"What does this mean to you? It means that if you recycle these plastics, the containers currently have nowhere to go but the landfill," Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd wrote in a Jan. 16 letter mailed to her constituents.

UPDATE: According to a statement from Republic Services, provided by the City of Meridian: "Right now – no matter where you live, Boise or Meridian, if you recycle the wrong plastics (#3-#7) it is considered contamination and that lot will likely end up in the landfill. So until Boise starts their program this spring, people will continue to recycle the incorrect plastics and that will contaminate recycling streams out of Boise."

That's far different from the ebullient message coming out of Boise City Hall about the city's new partnership with Western Recycling and Salt Lake City-based waste management company Renewlogy, and its plan to turn plastics into synthetic diesel fuel.

"We first got wind that something was up last summer, and the writing was really on the wall by last October. We knew then that Boise needed a solution," said Boise Public Works Environmental Manager Haley Falconer. "We got to work because we knew what a big deal this would be for people in our city."

Jessica Rolph, founding partner and Chief Operating Officer of Boise-based Happy Family Brands (makers of organic foods for babies and children) was the first to contact Boise City Hall about the possibility of a grant from the Keep America Beautiful Foundation and Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics to help fund a recycling solution. Not long after, Boise and Cobb County, Georgia, were each awarded $50,000 grants. For Boise, the grant helped get trash collector Republic Services and Western Recycling working with city officials to find a new destination for plastic refuse. They found Renewlogy, which uses a sustainable process to break down plastics to a molecular level and convert them into fuel, used primarily for agricultural purposes. Boise got a bonus in the new plan, too: Residents will be able to recycle a number of plastic items previously prohibited.

"Educating all our residents on how exactly this will work will be a significant challenge for Boise," said City of Boise spokesman Mike Journee. "To begin with, we'll be sending out a supply of 26 orange plastic bags that residents will be using, probably beginning this spring."

Journee said officials kept their negotiations with Renewlogy a secret until news reports about China no longer accepting U.S. plastics started making headlines across the region in early January.

"Honestly, this new program isn't fully baked just yet, but the news broke, and we wanted to make sure to get the word out that we have a solution because there's a lot of confusion out there," said Journee.

Meanwhile, at Meridian City Hall, the same confusion is triggering questions but few solutions.

"We learned about the issue right about the same time that most of the public learned about it," said City of Meridian spokeswoman Kaycee Emery. "We had a lot of people asking questions, even in our own office. We finally realized that we need a live demonstration of what the changes will be and what's going to end up in the county landfill."

Emery said that's why Mayor de Weerd and representatives from Republic Recycling will be on hand for the Jan. 24 Town Hall, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Cole Valley High School.

Emery expects questions about why Meridian hasn't jumped on the Boise bandwagon and partnered with Renewlogy.

"I can tell you that our solid waste advisory commission is looking into that program to see if it's something we can be a part of," she said. "We know it's a pilot program, and we want to make sure something like that is going to work for other communities."

UPDATE: "It’s not that we don’t have a solution. Our solution right now is to make changes quickly in order to ensure recyclables are not contaminated, while looking into other programs and options," added Emery. "We are making decisions based on direction from our recycling service providers."

Back in Boise, Journee said he expects other cities, particularly Meridian, to pick the brains of Boise officials once the Renewlogy program gets going this spring.

"Then, they'll have the benefit of Boise having already gone through the motions," said Journee. "In the meantime, we're going to be busy educating our own citizens on how our program will work—but everyone we've heard from so far loves this idea."


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